How FBOs Manage in the Era of Social Distancing
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Source: Flying Magazine
Companies have procedures in place to ensure customer and employee safety. FBOs across the country have seen a reduction in transient business, but aircraft disinfecting has been a brisk business.
“We’re all resilient people in general aviation anyway.” Troy Hyberger, FBO services manager for Duncan Aviation, has overseen the execution of the myriad operational changes implemented by the company in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, and he voices a sentiment echoed by those who spoke with Flying when we asked how their businesses were getting along.
Like most other fixed-base operators, Duncan Aviation has changed its day-to-day operations significantly since the novel coronavirus first raised its specter earlier this year. Duncan has three main service center locations in Lincoln, Nebraska, Battle Creek, Michigan, and Provo, Utah, and more than 20 other operations to handle customer logistics and AOG work. In mid-March, the company implemented an aircraft disinfecting service, designed to protect both its customers and employees, beginning with a general disinfecting process using EPA-approved materials, and obtaining a disinfecting unit for its main Lincoln location—with 10 more on order. “We’re not going to be mobile with them just yet,” said Hyberger, noting the amount of AOG work the company accomplishes, and the demand for the disinfecting service increasing every day.
With those units in operation, one will be placed in a customer’s aircraft for 20 minutes to disinfect it upon arrival, and again once the maintenance has been completed and prior to its return to the customer, said Hyberger. “Our customers have been awesome,” he said, noting that most pilots and passengers generally observed social distancing on their own initiative, staying outside of the FBO unless necessary. Though Hyberger reported that transient traffic overall has been down, maintenance operations were running apace, with roughly 15 aircraft on the ramp either waiting to get into the hangar or ready for pick up.
Rather than stick around and wait for maintenance, many pilots are opting to fly in with chase aircraft, or use rental cars to return home while their aircraft are in service. Lower fuel prices have also spurred an uptick in local piston operations, with pilots taking advantage of the $5.21 retail/$4.40 for based customers (at press time) prices per gallon of 100LL.
The same changes ring true with other operators. “For FBOs like Executive Air [at KGRB in Green Bay, Wisconsin] whose fuel sales account for a large majority of their revenue, the loss of the typical transient traffic is noticeable,” according to a release from GlobalAir.com. “However, many pilots are taking the time to have maintenance done on their aircraft.” Duncan and Executive Air both continue to service the airlines that are still flying—those numbers are minimal at this time—as well as some military contracts, though Hyberger notes that military transient traffic is down at KLNK as well.
Signature Flight Support, the world’s largest FBO network, has attacked the issues involving the outbreak on an even wider scale, given the breadth and reach of its operations. In a letter to customers, CEO Mark Johnstone offered reassurance along with specific areas the company was addressing, varying by location—with some restricting or temporarily closing to comply with local regulations and policies. “Ultimately, it is our intention to remain open and operating so we can provide essential aircraft handling to the communities where we live and serve,” said Johnstone.
For example, across the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region, Signature has reduced its hours systemwide to run from 0700 Local to 1900 Local in most places. Only Luton airport in the United Kingdom retains 24-hour operations at this time. For up to date information, pilots can visit the COVID-19 operations page.
The National Air Transportation Association has published its Guidance for FBOs and Ground Handlers on its site for those pilots and technicians seeking more information.